Read an Excerpt
Extract from A Wayne in a Manger by Gervase Phinn
Every teacher of young children has a story to tell about the Christmas Nativity play. There was the time the Innkeeper, when asked if there was any room in the inn, answered, 'Plenty', and ushered the startled Holy Family inside; the occasion when Mary dropped Baby Jesus, immediately bursting into floods of tears as the large pink doll rolled off the stage; the time that the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that he had tidings of great joy to bring but had completely forgotten what they were; and the memorable moment when the giant cardboard star, which had been suspended on a wire above the stage, fell on Joseph who, very much out of character, rubbed his head and exclaimed, 'Bloody 'ell!'
Then there was the time when the little boy playing Joseph strode confidently onto the stage and asked the small figure in blue who was cradling her baby, 'And how's our Jesus been today, Mary?' 'He's been a right little so-and-so!' came the blunt reply.
In one school I eavesdropped on a conversation between the Headteacher and a parent concerning the Nativity play the children were to perform. 'So what's this play about then?' asked the mother in all seriousness.
In another school I heard a father complain that, 'Tha allus do t'same play every Christmas. Tha wants to do summat different!'
As an Inspector for English and Drama, it was inevitable that I should be invited to attend several school nativities each Christmas. On one unforgettable occasion, at a small school deep in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, the Angel of the Lord - an angelic-looking little girl with golden curls and great innocent eyes — appeared on stage. She was draped in a shimmering white nylon sheet trimmed with sparkling tinsel and had elaborate golden wings, cut out of cardboard, attached to her back. She did indeed look the part.
The heavenly child was, however, unaware that the pretty ensemble she was wearing had somehow gathered up at the back. As she approached the front of the stage, little arms outstretched, one of the small shepherds, huddled around an imitation fire, had noticed.
The Archangel Gabriel began: 'Fear not, for glad tidings of great joy I bring -'
'I can see your pink knickers!' the shepherd informed her in a whisper so loud it could be heard at the back of the hall.
The angel continued regardless. 'To you in David's town this day, a baby boy will be born -'
'I can see your knickers!' said the shepherd even louder. 'Chardonnay, I can see your pink knickers!'
The Angel of the Lord, screwing up her little face angrily, turned around sharply and told him to 'Shut yer gob!' before continuing her speech in the most innocent of voices.
Things improved until the arrival of Mary and Joseph, both in thick woollen robes and headdresses. The heaters in the hall blasted out hot air, the bright spotlights shone down on the cast relentlessly and the small actors began to blow out their cheeks, huffing and puffing, scratching and fidgeting. As the Three Kings presented the happy couple with their gifts, Mary sighed and thrust the large doll representing the Baby Jesus, with a fair bit of force, on to the lap of Joseph with the words, 'You 'old Him a bit. 'E's gerrin dead 'eavy!'
As I approached a Dales school one December afternoon, I found all the children heading for home. I stopped a small boy loaded down with Christmas cards, calendars, decorations, presents and all manner of boxes and bags as he tried to negotiate the narrow gate.
'Where's everyone going?' I asked. 'There's a Nativity play here this afternoon, isn't there?'
He stopped for the amount of time it took to tell me bluntly, 'It's off!'
'It's off?' I repeated.
Aye,' he replied. 'T'Virgin Mary's got nits!'